Cambodia Says Peace With Thailand in Court’s Hands

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong warned of “unfortunate consequences” on Thursday should the International Court of Justice (ICJ) fail to decide whether Cambodia or Thailand owns a piece of borderland over which the two have fought several deadly clashes in recent years.

Mr. Namhong was wrapping up Cambodia’s arguments at The Hague in its request that the ICJ interpret a 1962 decision that awarded Cambodia the border-hugging Preah Vihear temple but, according to Thailand, did not settle who owns the 4.6 square km of land just beside it now in dispute.

Mr. Namhong said the U.N.’s top court had before it nothing short of “a decision on which peace and security in the region depends.”

The day was also Cambodia’s chance to counter the arguments Thailand made on Wednesday.

Thailand argued that the original 1962 decision was meant to decide one thing and one thing only: Who owned the temple. Cambodia’s request that the ICJ now use that decision to decide the fate of the land beside the temple was grounds to dismiss the case altogether.

Drawing on the words of the court’s original decision, however, Cambodian counsel Jean-Mark Sorel insisted otherwise.

The ICJ itself in 1962 said the dispute at the heart of the case was the “‘sovereignty over the region of the temple,’ not just the temple itself.”

He again stressed the pre-eminence of the colonial-era French map at the heart of Cambodia’s case, and at the heart of the ICJ’s original decision, that placed both the temple and the 4.6 square km beside it inside Cambodia.

Mr. Sorel admonished Thailand for, immediately after the decision in 1962, building a fence next to the temple cutting into Cambodia.

“Bad loser is what they call it in plain English,” he said in his native French, “ok for a kid, not for a government.”

Cambodian counsel Rodman Bundy took on Thailand’s claim that then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk raised no objections to the fence when he visited the temple in 1962.

Drawing on U.S. Embassy reports from the time, he said the prince remained silent in deference to warnings that “there would be trouble” if he tried to move past the Thai fence.

He said that Sihanouk had in any case “vigorously” objected to the fence before and after the visit, as Cambodia continued to do. Given that record, Mr. Bundy said, “it cannot credibly be maintained that Cambodia shared Thailand’s interpretation of the [1962] judgment,” as Thailand claims.

Cambodia also accused Thailand of inventing its own version of the local borderline in disregard of the original judgment in 1962 and denied its neighbor’s claim that Cambodia was fabricating maps.

Thailand will make its closing arguments today. A decision is not expected for several months.

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